I covered Little Big Toe’s 2017 release Is This What You Hear in your Head and was duly impressed. James Cutrera combines a soulful and emotional composition style with the panache and intelligence of a writer looking to draw more people into his world than not. He continues that trend with his latest release, and I’m happy to see some of the names (see below) that helped get this project into the spotlight.
Little Big Toe recently released its fourth recorded installment entitled Champagne and Coffee Stains. In typical DIY fashion, this album was almost entirely recorded in Carrollton, Texas in the garage of Jimmy James Cutrera’s 5th wheel toy hauler RV.
The album includes 14 tracks, almost entirely performed by James, himself. There are a couple of cameo appearances from friends Anthony Defabritus (Accidental Seabirds/Tony Appleseed band) and Alex Letizia (Accidental Seabirds).
This album’s concept deals with fluctuations in confidence levels within goal setting, and we deal with ourselves within the work itself and the celebratory phase. The album title symbolizes the drink of celebration (champagne) and the drink of work (coffee). Sometimes you feel on top of the world, and self-doubt seems to creep in when plans are diminished, and hurdles appear.
As well, we must learn how to cope with the moments after our goals are accomplished, and how we may find ourselves in a position of post-goal depression. And Cutrera has something to say when it comes to the compositional directives of this theme. Champagne and Coffee Stains feature 14 songs that showcase an ongoing journey into the world of original songwriting. And while Cutrera explains that this recording is more relaxed and organic, it still manages to convey the good, bad and ugly changes that have affected his life over the past couple of years.
Quite often we must battle outside elements in the forms of energy vampires, societal victimhood complexes, and our disgust with those outside sources. But, our greatest nemesis is always within us in how we deal with those factors, as well as how we deal with our nonsense.
The disc was mixed, performed and produced by Jimmy James C, except where noted. The project was mastered by Ant6hony Defabritus at AntFarm music.
So, let’s take a deeper dive into Champagne and Coffee Stains and see what James has to offer for our readers and fans.
Track number two is the first I focus on here. “It Doesn’t Mean That Much” kicks in right away and gives a great demonstration of Cutrera’s penchant for combing hooky compositional sections with a jagged and off-kilter approach to his writing. Acoustic and electric guitars mix and swirl over the top of the bass, drums (courtesy of Alex Letizia) and percussive hits as Cutrera sings his heart out. I love the little melodic trills and passages that the guitars produce as well as Cutrera’s vocal tone which is stable and harmonious. This song is a gloriously complex look into the mind of one of the area’s best songwriters.
Another interesting song is “It’s Not a Good Look.” Cutrera digs straight into the matter utilizing fingerpicked acoustic and electrics before coming in with vocals. Once again James manages to meld creative freeform with the solid compositional directive. The song floats between passages, adding hooks and riffs before falling back to concentrate on the thematic verse lyric and addictive chorus. I love the slight modulation in the chorus section as Cutrera spins his tale and sings from the heart. His production sensibilities are well-honed, and he knows exactly what should be included without oversaturating the piece. The middle-eight utilizes simple, melodic pentatonic brilliance to get his guitar point across. He doesn’t waste time on those “Top of the Mountain” solos and comes back to the song theme as soon as he’s out of the middle. I also love the immediate deterioration of the end as the song just ends in a flourish of combined chords and notes.
“The Long Game” is an intricate piece that starts with airy, finger-picked acoustics and cymbals before James gets into the heart of the matter. When his vocals come in the song really comes alive. If you like early Janes Addiction, that’s what this reminded me of as far as other artists. I love the melodic theme of this song. The writing is way above anything I’ve heard this year so far, and Cutrera is a master with connecting the right sections to come up with intricate and compelling compositions such as this. Cutrera handles the melodic range and available notes like no one I’ve seen ad his songs are far from ordinary fare. Sections wander through the mind of a writer with something to offer as Cutrera sidewinds into each new chapter, delivering a cornucopia of sounds and outlooks on life. One of my favorites so far.
I also like “Is Rusty still in the Navy.” Cutrera has a sense of humor, and it shows here. Combining real-life concern with tongue in cheek delivery, Cutrera sings his story as the band swings in bluesy swagger behind him. Guitars are bold but not overbearing, delivering the right mix of pentatonic blues-based riffage with bass and drum action and more. Once again, James manages to combine a series of instruments to produce the most joyful of noises without losing his train of thought or making us listen to his lyrical bend. An outstanding job throughout.
Cutrera is still working out in Texas but tries to find time to create music when things slow down a bit. Little Big Toe has been featured on WMCX 88.9 FM, WBJB 90.5 the Night, and Lazlo’s Blow Up Radio to name a select few. Cutrera has played many years throughout the tri-state area. Cutrera is a previous Asbury Park Musical Awards nominee for top guitarist and is a migratory Accidental Seabird when back in town.
There are 14 songs on Champagne and Coffee Stains, and it’s a record you’ll want to pick up and play repeatedly. I can only hope that when James returns to New Jersey, he’ll come bearing songwriting gifts to all the fans that love this music and the musicians that make it.
If you have a second, go over to littlebigtoe.bandcamp.com and take a listen for yourself. I know you’ll agree that once again, Mr. Cutrera has a winner on his hands.